Children’s books set in Latin America are great to introduce younger ones to the cultural diversity of the region. They’re also fantastic to provide adults with a little peep into the history and legends of Latin America. I’ll readily admit to learning more from reading some of these stories with my children.
Hispanic Heritage Month closed out on October 15. It was another delightful month learning about traditions, folklore, food and socio-political issues. Last year I did a post with 26+ ideas for celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. I really enjoyed putting together that list and have revisited it often to get some ideas for projects with my boys or with my college students. Unfortunately, this Hispanic Heritage Month caught me a little more pre-occupied with gearing up for virtual teaching and helping my own kiddies settle into their remote schedules. I wasn’t able to get this post ready in time but it’s still most definitely worth a look through. There’s one book in here about Día de Muertos and another about Mexican Christmas traditions, both upcoming festivals.
Here’s the list of children’s books set in Latin America that I’ve read with my family. I was quite choosy when selecting them and I’ve been thrilled with the results. Each of these stories was enjoyed, if not by all three kiddos, by at least one of them! Hope you find a new favourite from this list.
Picture Books Showcasing Latin American Culture
Amarantha the Tapir by Jazmin Ross Lemus (Costa Rica)
Lovely tapir Amaranta lived in Santa Rosa Park. Her baby, Tawny Light, transforms the landscape with her fabulous secret weapon. (You’ll have to read to find out what it is!)
Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castaneda and Enrique O. Sanchez (Guatemala)
Explore the culture of Guatemala through the eyes of little Esperanza, who works with her abuela–her grandmother–on weavings to sell at the public market. This is story about family pride and determination.
The Secret Footsteps by Julia Alvarez (Dominican Republic)
The Dominican legend of the ciguapas, creatures who live in underwater caves and whose feet are on backward so that humans can’t follow their footprints, is reimagined and brought to life in the pages of this book.
Taíno Tales: The Secret of the Hummingbird by Vicky Weber (Puerto Rico)
The story of how the Hummingbird came to be. The daughter of a Taíno chief, lives in paradise. One day, she meets a boy from the opposing tribe, the Carib. They soon become friends and then their friendship blossoms into something more. What will happen if someone discovers their forbidden love?
Roberto’s Trip to the Top by John B. Paterson Jr. and John B. Paterson Sr. (Venezuela)
Breathtaking vistas and bustling scenes await a boy and his uncle when they ride the teleférico to the top of a mountain in Venezuela. They encounter a problem along the way but Roberto keeps his thinking cap on.
The Llama’s Secret by Palacios (Peru)
A Peruvian rendition of the Great Flood story, in which a llama warns the people and animals to seek shelter on Huillcacato to avoid the rising sea, Mamacocha. The actions of the llama in this story explain why it is such a beloved animal in Andean culture.
Soccer Star by by Mina Javaherbin and Renato Alarcao (Brazil)
When Paulo Marcelo Feliciano becomes a soccer star, crowds will cheer! Then his mother won’t have to work long hours, and he won’t have to work all day on a fishing boat. For now, Paulo takes care of his little sister Maria (she teaches him reading, he teaches her soccer moves). This lovely story also explores life for young children in the favelas.
On the Pampas by Maria Cristina Brusca (Argentina)
An account of a little girl’s idyllic summer at her grandparents’ ranch on the pampas of Argentina. You’ll see how she explores el rancho and learns some new tricks too.
The Magic Bean Tree by Nancy Van Laan and Beatriz Vidal (Argentina)
The evil bird who lives on top of the magic tree that grows in the Argentine pampas has the power to stop the rain, so one summer, a little boy risks everything to save his village from dying of thirst by taking a stand against the powerful bird.
Waiting For the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and John Parra (Colombia)
Ana loves stories. She often makes them up to help her little brother fall asleep. But in her small village there are only a few books and she has read them all. Read this true story of librarian Luis Soriano who helped children like Ana.
Día de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and Carles Ballesteros (Mexico)
Read this story to join the fun and festivities of Día de los Muertos. Learn about this cultural tradition and brush up on your Spanish vocabulary, as the town honors their dearly departed in a traditional, time-honored style.
Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and Sara Palacios (Mexico)
It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re invited to a Nochebuena celebration! Follow a family as they prepare to host a night filled with laughter, love, and Latino tradition. Make tasty tamales and hang colorful adornos (decorations) on the walls. Gather to sing festive canciones (songs) while sipping champurrado (hot chocolate).
Playing Lotería by Rene Colato Laínez (Mexico)
Together a little boy and his grandma discover a world of language and realize that loved ones have special ways of understanding each other. Explore the intriguing lotería along the way.
Diego Rivera His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh (Mexico)
Diego Rivera, one of the most famous painters of the twentieth century, was once just a mischievous little boy who loved to draw. But this little boy would grow up to follow his passion and greatly influence the world of art.
Prietita and the Ghost Woman by Gloria Anzaldua (Mexico)
Ever since she can remember, Prietita has heard terrifying tales of la Llorona the legendary ghost woman who steals children at night. Against a background of vibrant folk paintings, Gloria Anzaldua reinterprets, in a bilingual format, one of the most famous Mexican legends. La Llorona is far more compassionate than Prietita expects.
Mango, Abuela y Yo by Meg Medina (US-Latino)
When a little girl’s far-away grandmother comes to stay, love and patience transcend language. Mia’s abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. Mia speaks only English and Abuela speaks only Spanish. They’ll have to find a way to teach each other.
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh (US-Mexico)
Seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, the Mendez family fought to end segregation in California schools. Discover their incredible story in this picture book. When her family moved to the town of Westminster, California, young Sylvia Mendez was excited about enrolling in her neighborhood school. But she and her brothers were told they had to attend the Mexican school instead. Her parents refused to accept that decree.
I Love Saturdays y Domingos by Alma Flor Ada (US-Latino)
Saturdays and Sundays are very special days for this little girl. On Saturdays, she visits Grandma and Grandpa, who come from a European-American background, and on Sundays — los domingos — she visits Abuelito y Abuelita, who are Mexican-American. She learns to love both cultures.
Mis Zapatos y Yo by Rene Colato Laínez (a migration story)
Mario, with his new shoes, and his father set off on the long journey to meet his mother in the United States. He says goodbye to his friends in El Salvador, and “Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are ready to go.” The trip is difficult and the pair will walk long and hard. Author Rene Colato Laínez shares his own experiences in this story.
The above list of children’s books set in Latin America is divided up geographically for ease of reference. I’m hoping to eventually have at least one story from each of the twenty Latin American countries. However, I have to sing the praises of Duncan Tonatiuh whose books are gorgeous and insightful. Every book I’ve read by him has taught me new information, inspired my curiosity and, as a special bonus, got my children asking questions too! Make sure you add him to your list.
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